Now you can sing "Happy Birthday To You" without fear of copyright infringement!
A U.S. Federal judge ruled Tuesday that Warner/Chappell's copyright claim to the celebratory song is not valid.
Warner/Chappell acquired the copyright in 1988 and reportedly still collects roughly $2 million annually in licensing fees, The New York Times reports.
In his ruling, Judge George H. King said that the original copyright was only granted for specific arrangements of the music, not the song itself.
In the early 20th century the familiar birthday-themed lyrics began to appear, but it's not clear who wrote them, King noted. Summy copyrighted a version of "Happy Birthday to You" in 1935 — which is the copyright claimed by Warner/Chappell.
King found that Summy had published the original version of “Good Morning to All.” It never properly had rights to the birthday lyrics.
“Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics,” King wrote, the New York Times reports “Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics.”
King ruled that "the Hill sisters gave Summy Co the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics."
In July 2015, a 1922 songbook that publishes the tune and its lyrics without any copyright notice was found, the LA Times reports.
"We did exhaustive historical research and none of it showed that the publisher owned anything other than copyrights to four very specific piano arrangements," Mark Rifkin, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs told the BBC Radio 4's Today, said.
"In the second part of the case, which hopefully we'll get to start very soon, we're going to be asking the court to order Warner to return all the money that's been collected from everyone who has had to pay a licensing fee or royalty to use the song... at least going back to 1988."
If the judge's ruling stands, "Happy Birthday to You," would become part of the public domain.
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